Sunday, July 6, 2014
Thanks to a referral from my friend Karen Workman, I just received a copy of the first scholarly journal review of The Blind Man and the Loon. It comes from the hand of the well-known Tlingit folklorist and former Alaska Poet Laureate, Richard Dauenhauer. Dauenhauer calls it "an excellent book. . .well gounded in folklore methods and scholarship. It is certainly the definitive study on this folktale and a model for similar studies." The full review can be found in Alaska History Vol. 29 No. 1, Spring 1914, p. 53. Alaska History is published by The Alaska Historical Society.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
In the past couple of years a number of video plays or playets have been published on You Tube, most of them featuring child actors and narrators. This re-enforces the popular belief that The Blind Man and the Loon is basically a children’s story, a position I try to argue against in my book, at least in Native oral tradition.
One of these dramatizations was produced and uploaded on October 18, 2012, by The Anchorage School District in Anchorage, Alaska, with students from Williwaw Elementary School. Not all of the students appear to be Native, but many of them are undoubtedly from ethnic minorities. The Loon Story is a video play introduced and produced by Teresa Lois Lowrey (Sagacey), a Tanaina woman identified as a Cultural Artist who designed the masks used in the play.
The script for the play is based on the variant of the tale recorded in Bill Vaudrin’s book, Tanaina Tales of Alaska (1981). I taught with Vaudrin at the old Anchorage Community College back in the early 1970s. Vaudrin spent a lot of time living and recording English variants of traditional Tanaina Indian tales in the remote villages of Pedro Bay and Nondalton. The production capitalizes on the fact that Anchorage is also part of the Tanaina homeland. Unlike several of the others discussed below, this production retains the wicked wife’s two betrayals (leaving him to starve and offering him water bugs). However, at the end she is merely banished not killed. There is no revenge by the blind man.
The extensive credits for this video include Candace Rysdyk, drama teacher, with music from David Maracle’s album Spirit Flutes. (Never mind that the Tanaina have no flute music tradition). Costumes for the children were provided by the Anchorage School District Indian Education Program Title VII, and the videography credits go to ASD-TV’s Stephen Kennedy with three technical assistants. Based on the number of people involved, many of them professionals, this video appears to have been a complex and expensive production.
The actors are all elementary school students and seem to be second and third graders. The co-narrators of the play are Dianna and Renei. The film is approximately fourteen minutes long, consisting of a 2 minute lead-in by Lowrey, 9 minutes of drama, and 3 minutes of curtain calls and credits. To date it has received 695 views.
A second You Tube video is narrated by an anonymous girl known only as LM9985. This video is much less sophisticated and lasts only 2 minutes. It consists of a slide show using photos borrowed from other web sites (appropriately credited), accompanied by a music track. It is called Blind Boy (Why Narwhals Have Tusks). The video was posted in January 2011 and has been viewed 813 times as of this posting. No source is given, but it is clearly derived from variants found in Group B (Eastern Canada) of my book. The video’s young producer gives her source as the Handbook of Native American Mythology (2004) by Dawn E. Bastian and Judy K. Mitchell.
A third You Tube video was uploaded by a young boy about eleven or twelve years old named Dino Rinco. He is apparently a Canadian with Australian connections. His self-produced video, The Blind Boy and the Loon, is 7 minutes and 14 seconds long and consists of Dino reading a narrative script to the camera from his bedroom, with bunk beds in the background. The script, which is invisible to the viewer, appears to be posted on a bulletin board or easel in front of Dino. The video was posted on September 25, 2012.
How the Loon got It's Necklace Readers Theatre represents the most recent video incarnation of the story. It is just 3 minutes and 50 seconds long and consists of a reading by five fourth and fifth grade students lined up in front of a blackboard in school. Each student reader has a typescript with selected parts to read. The videographer is apparently a Canadian school teacher known as Mr. Noad. This script is heavily redacted, having no female betrayal and no element of revenge. The only actors in the story are the blind man, his son, and the loon. It was uploaded on October 29, 2013. Of the four videos, this is the least sophisticated, and it has received just 47 views.
Based on these works, the popularity of The Blind Man and the Loon among children and school teachers seems undiminished. Of course, if you take out all the betrayals and violence in the oral tradition, then it becomes quite a different story.
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Friday, January 3, 2014
The writer and Inuit historian Mitiarjuk Attasie Nappaaluk (1931-2007) lived in the Nunavik, Québec community of Kangiqsujuaq and wrote the first novel published in Inuttitut, the Inuktitut dialect spoken in Nunavik. Her Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel was first written in syllabics in 1935 but not published until 1984. It appeared in French in 2002, translated by Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, and it has just now been translated into English by Peter Frost and published by the University of Manitoba Press, released on January 1, 2014. The novel concerns an Inuit family trying to negotiate the social, technological, and spiritual changes brought into their lives by the coming of the white people.
Nappaaluk was a member of Nunavik's Inuttitut Language Commission and a longtime consultant with the Kativik School Board. She became a member of the Order of Canada in 2004.
Although she incorporated the Blind Man and the Loon tale into her novel, she undoubtedly came by the tale through oral tradition in her Native community. In my own book I write a lot about semi-literary variants of the tale, in which non-Natives have taken published texts from oral tradition and redacted them to suit their own ideas of how the story should be told, usually for a children’s audience, but Nappaaluk’s work clearly represents a true literary adaptation aimed at adults.
Chapter 24 is titled The Legend of Lumaajuq and contains a warning about getting ill or dying from eating certain old belugas that carry the Lumaajuq, often seen as a dark object in the water behind the beluga. The dark object resembles an avataq or drag float but is believed to be the blind man’s wicked mother. This account adds some interesting new details to the story that may well have come out of oral tradition, so that I wonder if this part of the novel or récit really deserves to be classified as “fiction.” Folktales themselves are too often regarded as fiction, when indeed they are something else entirely.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Wikipedia says “The social network is a theoretical construct useful in the social sciences to study relationships between individuals, groups, organizations, or even entire societies.” It recently occurred to me that the wide distribution of the Blind Man and the Loon story across Greenland and North America represents a late prehistoric and early historic social network, probably one of the first ever documented. All of the Native communities where the story is now found are nodes on that network, and interactions between individual storytellers are its strands. This ancient folk tale and others like it stand as remarkable precursors to Facebook and Twitter, sharing values and beliefs across time and space.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Through more persistent Googling, I came across four more art works, all miniature sculptures, by Canadian Inuits, that should be added to Chapter 5 in the book.
For starters, you can find a miniature brown streaked light grey-stone sculpture by Bob Barnabus of Ikpiarjuk (Arctic Bay), created in 1993-1994, and entitled “Lumak (Scene from the Legend of the Blind Boy and the Loon)” at the following link:
The second and third works are Mattiusi Iyaituk’s “Legend of Lumaaq” (from the late 1980s) and also his “Lumaaq and Her Adopted Whale Baby” (n.d.). Both are abstract pieces made from stone with wood and/or ivory inserts. Iyaituk, born in 1950, is a Nunavik Eskimo artist from the community of Ivujivik. The two pieces may be viewed by clicking on the following links:
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
More exciting news! While attending the Dene Languages Conference in Calgary this month, I made a short announcement about my research and book and learned about three more storytellers who actively tell the tale of the Blind Man and the Loon. One lives in Tetlin, Alaska (where it was recently collected in the Upper Tanana language by linguist Olga Lovick), a second is told in Dene Sųłiné (Chipewyan) in Cold Lake, Alberta, and the third is told by a woman in Dakelh (Carrier) or Sekani in Fort St. James, B.C. Perhaps these texts or audio recordings will emerge soon, so they may be shared. The recent Dakelh or Sekani variant shows that the tale has been circulating in the Fort St. James area for at least 121 years! It was first collected there at Stuart Lake by Father A.G. Morice in 1892.